Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
In the midst of a lengthy win streak back in January, Spring-Ford coach Joe Dempsey wasn’t quite sure how his team stacked up.
Rolling at the time with 15 straight wins, the Rams certainly looked like the top dogs in the Pioneer Athletic Conference but beyond that they weren’t thinking too far into future.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” senior Alex Lewis said back in January.
Then the wins kept coming and coming and coming —one at a time —.all the way to the program’s first PAC title in seven years, first District 1 championship appearance in school history, finally to the school’s first run to the PIAA Class 6A semifinals.
That’s where a historic Spring-Ford season finally ended with a 53-32 loss to Reading on Tuesday.
Spring-Ford's Caleb Little, left, and Jacob Nguyen, right, fight for the ball with Reading's Ruben Rodriguez. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
It turns out Dempsey’s Rams stacked up pretty well, finishing their season as one of the final four teams in the state.
“That’s a tribute to the kids,” Dempsey said. “You play one game at time, one quarter at a time, you wake up and, woah, there’s a 20-game winning streak. Then you wake up and, woah, you’re in a district final. … You just sort of take one game at a time and if the kids are willing — and they were. If they’re willing to be coached hard and they’re willing to prepare and watch video and lift and follow game plans it’s just a credit to the kids for letting us coach them.”
Spring-Ford’s historic run ran into another on Tuesday at Coatesville HS as the Red Knights have piled up a 31-1 record and entered on a 21-game win streak, not dropping a game since the start of the new year.
Reading’s defense barely let Spring-Ford (28-4) penetrate past the 3-point line in the game’s opening minutes. The Red Knights jumped out to a 13-0 start, not letting the Rams get on the scoreboard until a free throw with a minute and a half left in the first quarter. Spring-Ford’s first field goal didn’t come until the 6:34 mark in the second quarter.
Reading's Myles Gray, center, holds the ball as Spring-Ford's Zach Zollers, left, and EJ Campbell, right, reach in. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“They’re known for their defense, upping the tempo of the game, forcing turnovers from the other team and playing fast,” Spring-Ford sophomore Jacob Nguyen said of Reading.
The Rams hung tight after falling behind 20-5 in the first half as they closed on an 8-2 run to make it 22-13 at the break. Spring-Ford opened the third quarter with a bucket to close the gap to seven, but the hill to climb grew even taller when Reading went on a 12-0 run to extend its lead to 34-15.
"I felt good at halftime," Dempsey said. "We chipped it back, and I told the guys, 'Let's try to chip away.' We score right out the gate then we gave up an easy basket and I felt defensively we were OK, but offensively, we couldn't score. It's so hard to simulate that pressure."
Reading senior Ruben Rodriguez finished with 20 points, reaching 2,000 in his career on a fastbreak bucket late in the fourth quarter. Classmate Aris Rodriguez ended with 12 after two first-quarter threes got his team off to a hot start.
Spring-Ford's EJ Campbell eyes the rim against Reading on Tuesday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Junior E.J. Campbell scored 17 for the Rams, but they struggled to get anything going outside of him. Every possession it was hard to generate a decent look.
“We just kept playing our defense, staying poised and got the job done,” Reading senior Aris Rodriguez said.
Reading will play reigning state champion Roman Catholic, a winner over Archbishop Wood, on Saturday in the state title game, while Spring-Ford says goodbye to a senior class — Lewis, Caleb Little, Zach Zollers, Tyree Banks and Mike McKenna — that helped the program reach new heights.
“It was definitely great,” Little said of the season. “It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but it was an amazing ride with my guys.”
The Rams will have a strong core back next season led by Campbell, Nguyen and sophomore Tommy Kelly. Nguyen pointed to that senior group as what differentiated this squad from Spring-Ford team’s of the past.
“The seniors,” Nguyen said. “They’re all great leaders. We all love each other and all the seniors led all the underclassmen to where we got here. It was just a fun ride.”
Dempsey hopes his team will be able to realize just how special their run was.
“I tried to be as positive as I could,” Dempsey said. The kids are really down and disappointed, but I’ve been coaching a long time and these runs are special and they’re very difficult. They’re very difficult to get to this layer of the season after such a long season and I’m just super proud of the guys.”
Spring-Ford: 3 | 10 | 4 | 15 || 32
Reading: 13 | 9 | 14 | 17 || 53
Spring-Ford: EJ Campbell 17, Jacob Nguyen 6, Alex Lewis 4, Tommy Kelly 4, Caleb Little 1.
Reading: Ruben Rodriguez 20, Aris Rodriguez 12, Myles Grey 7, Amier Burdine 5, Nick Chapman 4, Yadiel Cruz 3.